Forty-six years. “Actually, 46 and a half,” Doc Kupka says by phone from New York. He’s the baritone sax player and cofounder of soul band Tower of Power, which started in Oakland, California. I wonder if TOP would have as long a run if they’d launched in today’s version of the music industry. “Depends on your business savvy. We never had huge business skills,” he says, “but we had the musical ability.” Indeed. With the early albums (East Bay Grease, Bump City, Tower of Power, Back to Oakland), TOP out-performed their horn-band competition. “Blood, Sweat, and Tears pretty much faded away. We never got the level of success of Chicago, but we had five horns, and we knew what to do with them.” I wonder if a song like “Squib Cakes” was just about claiming dominance. “Nah. That was Chester Thompson. He just came up with that. Remember when he used to play that long organ solo?” I do. “It was great to have a song that featured me, but after 3000 plays, I’m glad we don’t do it anymore.”
- Saturday, January 17, 2015, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
Tower of Power started out as the Motowns in 1968. It was always about having a horn section that led rather than followed, a funky soul-based rhythm section. Past members include some of the best musicians in the business. After the late Bill Graham released their first album, dozens more albums would follow on various labels, culminating with 2014’s Hipper than Hip, a collection of stuff recorded in 1974. “Is there new music coming?” Yes. Doc says Emilio Castillo is producing an all-originals CD. “You probably won’t see it until 2016, but it’s gonna sound mighty good.” He gives me a few bari sax pointers (my instrument as well) then remembers that TOP is touring with a new front man. “Ray Greene,” he says. “He’s the best singer we’ve ever had.”